19 September 2013

Calling All Angels, walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone, calling all angels, calling all angels, we’re hoping, but we’re not sure how….

The signs were there….they’re always there if you’re looking…or more specifically, looking back. It’s always the way it goes – rarely are we IN a moment and thinking ‘this is a sign’ – rarely do we think anything more of a chance meeting or conversation than ‘gee this is nice – I’ve enjoyed this…’ So yes, looking back on that Friday night in June 2013 – I can say I ‘saw’ the sign. But in all reality it was just another party night at my friend Wendy’s house. She’s a local business owner and thus her circle of friends is small and large at the same time. She invited me over to a party – a precursor to 80’s dance night at the local favourite haunt. Basically a bunch of us sit and stand around and drink and chat before we go sweat our asses off dancing to 80’s music – some of it questionable (big hair bands) – some of it I love (The Cure, New Order, Yaz…) some of it is just to stand around running into people I only see at this joint and have no real connection to other than the fact that I (used) to live there. Small talk and chit chat – some of my least favourite things.

Back to Wendy’s…so at this stage of the game I’ve moved out of this town and moved closer to New York City so I have to drive a few extra miles after work (and drink less once I get there since I can no longer walk home) in order to start my evening. I arrive close to 9p after a hectic drive. Fridays are always the hardest in the warmer months – everyone leaves to get out of the city – so I grab for the nearest alcoholic beverage and start my weekend. My weekends are much needed at this point. You see, by day I’m a television writer and producer. I work long hours and sometimes have long commutes. This weekend was well earned because I had delivered a rough cut of my episode for “Buying The Bayou”. It had been a bit of a challenge making all the pieces fit (a challenge I always love, by the way) so I was ready for talk that had nothing to do with time codes, shot selections or music timing. Standing in the kitchen, sucking down my first cider of the night, I was introduced to Wendy’s old band mate who now lives in Canada. She left the states about 10 or so years ago to be with her then girlfriend (some chick whose name escapes me).

Being musicians we start chatting about instruments, music and, of course, musicians we love. Three plus months later I can’t remember how it came up – maybe we were talking about Canadian musicians – but she mentions that her now ex used to work for Jane Siberry. Actually, I think we were chatting more about the ex. I was somehow dragged into a long laborious ‘talk’ or rambling on about the ex and the break-up and all the stuff people tell to strangers even though as strangers we really don’t care so much. But I patiently allowed her to talk AT me for, what seemed like hours, and indeed turned into hours much to my polite chagrin. Once Jane Siberry’s name came up (and the bragging that went along with the disclosure of her ex that went along with it – which, I’ll say frankly, I thought this chick was a little too impressed with her ex and herself – maybe I’m cynical or jaded having met much bigger stars than Siberry – but either way she was annoyingly proud) thankfully the conversation switched to music and our mutual love of the song “Calling All Angels”. Of course this chick had on her computer some concert footage not found on the internet – so I got to watch some stuff I’d never seen before. That was cool! I have to say for all this bitching about this chick that Jane Siberry is ridiculously talented! I’ve always appreciated her music and because of the soundtrack to the film “Until The End Of The World” by one of my favourite directors, Wim Wenders, I had found this song when the film was released in the movie theatres. It may have even been the first time I’d heard of her. (That's what’s so great about soundtracks – it’s how I first heard of Dido on “Sliding Doors” several months before her first CD was released here in the states.)

The night went on…as soon as we got to the bar I ditched the annoying chick. After twelve years in LA my patience for people who talk AT me and don’t engage in two-way conversation is non-existent and basically I just write people off at this point. Sometimes I wonder if I attract these people (I used to think it was just LA but I'm finding it happens here in New England albeit with much less frequency) or if it’s how society is moving in the face of one sided social networking spewing and texting (of which I am guilty and not a day goes by where I am not engaging in thumb sprints on my ‘smart’ phone). I went about my evening – danced and chatted with the locals and had a good time as I always do on those nights. But something stuck with me. Through the haze of Adam and The Ants, Duran Duran, Bonnie Tyler, and Kate Bush and the occasional Bon Jovi tune “Calling All Angels” stuck with me. You could say it haunted me – all weekend, in fact…

I got home – to my new home – slept in and painted and unpacked. All the while I had a feeling that something was amiss in the air. I couldn’t place my finger on it – but something was ‘up’. This was a big step – I’d left a horrible and mean situation and was feeling good about this new chapter and getting a fresh start. I was settling into my work – the flow of a new show – new people – new commute and enjoying this, my fourth living room, since leaving LA. I thought everything was cool…and it was except for this nagging feeling.

Monday comes and I get up, start my day and vow to leave exactly ON TIME to be at work AT 10a – not 10:05 as had been my pattern of late. I think I forgot – nothing. My desire to leave right at 9a (it’s a 58 minute commute) clearly was not strong enough to make it a reality – I think I left around 9:05…I don’t remember because there was nothing spectacular about that morning or my leaving. It was a sunny day – really warm – pushing 80 degrees already and that was about it, just another mid-summer morning in New England. On the way in to work I take a small road – two lanes – country and trees and small deli’s and gas stations spatter the landscape before hitting the reservoir that tells me I’m near the highway. It’s fifteen miles of me going only as fast as the driver in front of me and never as fast as my car wants to go. I’d gotten a new CD a week or two earlier – Richard Shindell – someone I’d been introduced to years before. I had picked up a live CD by him, Courier (released in 2002, coincidentally the year I met one of my favourite people and the person who introduced me to him), and was listening to it non stop on my drives to and from work. I was a little obsessed you could say. I left the CD in and let it play end to end and backwards again….I was particularly newly in love with “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” (I had heard it several times before and at one of his live shows - but somehow it was really speaking to me in those weeks) so I was hard pressed to take the CD out and listen to anything else – not even the radio.

I got on the highway – a winding road that has a tendency to flood in bad weather – it’s a road I’d been driving Monday to Friday since 22 April when my work on “Buying Alaska” began (the same production company produces both shows so whilst I was hired to work on ‘Alaska’ I’d been moved to ‘Bayou’ after my first episode of ‘Alaska’). Within a few miles of going about seventy miles per hour in not-quite-rush hour traffic - it happens. Out of nowhere I see a guardrail flying through the air – I quickly do some math on trajectory, speed and how to avoid it going through my windshield. I steer away from where I believe it to be heading all the while trying to avoid hitting the car right in front of me as she (I would later find out) does the same. Meanwhile a blue car is crossing from my left lane and headed off the highway and towards the trees that separate the highway from the neighbourhood that runs parallel to us. Steering through the debris and into the right lane I look to my left and see a white SUV stopped dead in the road and totaled. I safely slow down, stop and look in my side view mirror – luckily – and jump out and head towards the nearest car – the blue Jetta that now sits in the grass. He’s bleeding and disoriented so I help him out of the car, set him down a safe distance from it (at this point all traffic and stopped behind the white SUV) and run back to my car for water and my first aid kit. The woman in the car in front of me had also pulled over so there are two of us helping so I run over to the white SUV and get them out of the car. They appear to be fine so I go back and focus on the guy in the Jetta. In the meantime some tool from the neighbourhood decides to come check things out – I ask him if he’s here to help – he said ‘no I just want to see what’s going on’ so I tell him to get the fuck out of here – he’s scared of me - so he leaves – all the while I see people with their phones taking photos of all of us – it’s so bizarre that no one else tried to help. Go figure!

It seems like forever – but it wasn’t – within ten minutes emergency vehicles and fire trucks from the nearest town start to show up…and take over. I can’t quite breathe at this point even though I know everyone was in good hands….it’s the rush of adrenaline…the blue sky and the heat of the highway baking my legs. I’m thirsty – but I’m more worried about the guy from the Jetta. He’s disoriented and when they get him on the stretcher he starts breathing really fast and heavy. He’s panicking and going into shock. None of the EMT’s seem to notice (I think they were a little busy) so I lean in and try and calm him down. Finally they cart him off.

Then me and the other lady who stopped are just waiting to be questioned. The police get to us and then tell us as soon as the fire trucks get out of the way we are free to leave. About forty-five minutes after the crash I’m getting into my car. I had managed to text work to let them know what was going on so I knew I didn’t need to rush. I put my Bluetooth on and turn the car on…..before I start driving I call my Dad. He doesn’t answer and so I ended up leaving a slightly panicked message – I didn’t want to alarm him (I can’t fool him) but I didn’t want to just say ‘hi’. I needed him…I need his voice to tell me I was ok…to calm me down…and assure me I had gotten lucky. When he didn’t answer the CD player came back on…and yes, you guessed it “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” began to play. It’s a very calm and lyrically sweet song. I could feel my blood pressure beginning it’s epically slow decent into my normal range. I had to keep my shit together long enough to drive the remaining half an hour to work. The song helped keep me focused.

I had half an hour to think – no talking to anyone and just 25 miles and a ride across the Hudson River to get through. It occurred to me that I had angels looking over me that morning. All of my angels had been called to keep me out of that accident. All of them played a hand in my being later to leave than I had planned and (I had just had my brakes done) kept me level headed in the midst of flying guardrails and car parts and an asundry of debris. I had often wondered if they’d left me. It’s been years since the last really important person in my life died. While there have been some close calls (we almost lost Dad last year) for the most part the people I know who have died have been related to important people in my life and while I mourned them – it’s not nearly as hard hitting when it’s not your kin or your close friend. So I had been wondering – at one point do the angels just move on and leave us earthlings to our own lives? If you believe in reincarnation as I do than it's a pretty obvious question to ask. They MUST be in someone else’s body by now and being a part of someone else’s soul. They must have left me behind. While I had felt their presence in recent years it had been nothing more than a feeling of being haunted – a ‘knowing’ of sorts. But that morning – in that hour it was clear. I was not alone. I was being looked after – cared for and being kept safe. My angels were there – they had just not been needed in an obvious way in recent years.

Thankfully no one died that morning. But I was a definitely shaken up! I got to work in one piece and my awesome bosses offered up hugs and alcoholic beverages while I ran off at the mouth and started to ‘come down’ from the adrenaline rush that had kept my head focused enough to drive. They told me to take my time and ease into my day. So when my Dad called me back about fifteen minutes later I didn’t feel bad about taking my time to talk to him. He calmed me down. He assured me I was ok and that I was lucky it wasn’t worse. His soothing voice jump-started my blood pressure to lower more quickly and allow me to focus on my work. Which, luckily, in that moment merely entailed me gathering information for my network deliverables (the stuff that Discovery wants to know about the episode and the people in it). It promised to be an easy few hours – perfect and just what I needed before diving into my next episode of “Buying The Bayou”.

That day I took myself out to lunch (sushi – my go-to treat) and celebrated the fact that I was alive - just like my Mother did that icy February day I rolled my sister’s car on a tiny back road in Connecticut when I was seventeen. She took me to a local place for dinner in my home town and while most mothers would have grounded me (even though it was an accident) my Mother told anyone who would listen how glad she was that I was alive and that we were celebrating that fact. It was just us (my sister was away at college) and no grandparents. Just me and Mom and her beaming smile of relief. I later heard from my grandmother that my Mom got really upset when she saw the car that I had rolled. It was totaled and she got scared that, had I not been wearing my seatbelt (for basically the first time – this was before laws), she would have lost her little baby. She never showed me her panic – just her joy. I guess that’s what mothers do. It was also a tremendous lesson I witnessed in being grateful for life and for knowing how to rejoice in the little gifts. Mom was cool like that!

After lunch I was walking back to my desk and my Executive Producer called me into his office and asked me if I’d started on the new ‘Bayou’ episode. I said ‘no – I was just about to, though…’ then he told me the schedule had changed and they were moving me back to ‘Alaska’. So I went to my desk and started the process of working on the new show. My job entails me watching hours upon hours of footage that has been shot by a field crew. Our episodes are all filmed in three days, using three cameras and if I’m lucky I also have transcripts to comb through (word by word typed pages of what was on camera) but I always like to watch the footage first. This way I learn about a personality and also if something had to be re-shot or someone stumbled their words or simply said them in a less than energetic way - than I can choose the best take or version of that segment or interview. Everyone has their own way of working – but this is mine. The more footage I can watch the better my script will be on the first draft. It also helps me change gears and get into a story and figure out what the direction and ‘hook’ will be.

I was still pretty shaken up – my Dad had calmed me down a lot but there was still about twenty percent of me that was feeling weird and nervous even though it had been a few hours since the accident. But I had to work so I pulled up some footage to watch and settled in and let my Final Cut roll. There she was. Someone I’d never seen, and had only heard of in passing a few weeks earlier (as in – ‘that guy’s co-worker will be doing a show’). I don’t know what happened but within a few minutes of me watching her on the screen I could feel myself calming down. How could this be? This is a person on my small screen who is emanating a centred and peaceful vibe, for lack of a better word. But why? What the hell is going on? My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around these thoughts. Maybe it’s like how we felt we were friends with the “Friends” crew or the “Dawson’s Creek” kids because of watching them week after week. Her presence brought me back to earth and I started to feel ok. Was it her easy laugh? Her voice? Her smile? I don’t know, and to this day I’ve no clue what transpired but my shakes started to disappear and my head was beginning to clear. By the end of the afternoon I was feeling normal again. It was like I’d taken a stress B vitamin and gone for a five mile run. Whatever it was – she took me down that last twenty percent. I quietly thanked my angels for this distant presence – for the new, unexpected episode, and for these hours of footage that I got to watch that day.

A few days later I had to reach out to her – I had some questions I needed answering that would help me fill in some blanks to write the episode. It was a very professional email that belied my desire to tell her what she had unknowingly done for me. How do you tell a stranger ‘thanks for calming me down’ when all they did was shoot a television show and until this email in their in box appeared they didn’t even know you existed? Of all the crazy things – I was not about to say a word. A day or so later she wrote me back. But she started the email by asking ME a question. Nobody ever asks ME questions – I’m the Producer looking for answers. So I answered her – I think because she had calmed me down and by now I’d been watching three days of footage for the past three days – I felt comfortable with her and honestly and fully answered her question. Then I thanked her for her answers and then I don’t know how it happened – but the emails continued. More questions from both of us – more answers shared. That led to me sending her some tunes and her liking them.

Then….I started to break my own rule. I never make friends with people I write about. I want to know just enough about them to help me write a better show but anything more – any more contact than the information I need crosses a line for me. Some of it is also that I don’t want to have to worry about whether someone likes the show or not – I just want to write the best one I can without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings – even though I always try and write people in as good and positive light as I can – but still. Maybe because of the accident and her affect on me it made me break my rule (not that that’s any great prize for her) and allowed the boundaries to be broken. Maybe because very quickly I discovered that this was one cool and fascinating person. She’s led a very interesting life and not all of it has been easy. On a daily basis she is faced with immortality and the idea that she may, in all likelihood, outlive her son - all of this due to a random and unfairly drawn straw. Not that she would ever put it that way and not that any of it comes across on camera. Her non-pitying attitude and matter-of-fact approach to this aspect of her life (that she readily shared with me) immediately garnered my respect. This woman is not a victim as so many people are or would be given the opportunity. She is who is and is not defined by her son’s condition. (He suffers from neurofibromatosis – for more on that go to www.ctf.org and please donate if you can.)

It’s been three months since those first emails. Countless texts, phone conversations and boisterous laughing fits have been exchanged. Although we’ve yet to meet – not even on skype or facetime – I feel as though she and I are friends. Good ones. Even though I worry about over sharing on my part and worry about how much does she really want to know about me? Why would she want to know anything? I think that has more to do with where my head, and self esteem have been in recent years and less about her. It’s funny – in one moment she can remind me of my Mother, and then in another moment she’s like the sister I relate to more than my own. We come from such different worlds, and live in very different ones as well, but somehow I feel there’s a soul sister thing going on. We exchange recipes, jokes, and I know more about her musical tastes (which are more diverse than mine, in all honesty) than most people I see on a daily basis. She’s also one of the funniest people I know who can crack me up in a split second. But there’s a kindness to her as well – maybe it’s the mother thing in her – maybe she was just born kind.

Either way, I’m glad I broke my rule – and I’m convinced the angels sent her my way right when I needed her (two weeks after I started that episode I got the courage to thank her for what she ‘did’). I don’t think I was ready for a new person in my life in the previous months or years. If all this had happened a year ago she’s be just another subject in a TV show I wrote about. I’ve no clue why she’s friends with me (she has a very full and busy life and doesn’t really need me in it) but that’s ok – I’m still too busy trying to figure out how it is I am friends with, and feel close to, someone I’ve never met. It’s a new experience for me and it’s cool – I guess we don’t get to understand everything in life. Some things are meant to be a mystery. I need to just accept that and be okay with it all. Whatever our purpose is in each other’s lives I hope we stay friends for a long time. I’m planning on it on my end. I hope she is on hers.

When we do meet face to face (as we have plans to do) I’d like to think it will be like two old friends getting together for early afternoon martinis on a hot summer afternoon in The Berkshires. I’d like to think we’ll be that comfortable with one another. I can only hope, and I’m guessing if my angels have anything to say about it, it will be just like that. Because now more than ever I believe they’ve not left and when called upon they were there…..and are here.

Thanks for tuning in…Until next time…CHEERS!